Kadri looks for fresh start

Nazem Kadri celebrates a goal earlier this season.

Nazem Kadri celebrates a goal earlier this season.

Lance Hornby, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:19 PM ET

For a guy who has only played 20 games this year, Nazem Kadri has managed to be a talking point for the Maple Leafs, the media, their fans and even on Coach’s Corner.

Though he proved unready for the NHL spotlight at the start of last season, it seemed the first-round pick from 2009 was being unfairly scrutinized by coach Ron Wilson, who wasn’t shy to point out the youngster’s defensive deficiencies. It seemed no matter how hard Kadri worked, adapting to new positions with the Leafs and putting up good numbers with the Marlies (32 points in 42 games), nothing could get him regular work in Toronto.

A nose dive by the big club added to the bad optics of keeping Kadri on the farm, though there were merits in keeping him occupied with the first-plce Marlies and out of the harsh Bay St. spotlight that was falling on the Leafs. But Kadri received his third and final chance of the season this weekend, when he was summoned with Ryan Hamilton after the Leafs ran into emergency roster conditions.

This will be the 21-year-old’s chance for a fresh start with new coach Randy Carlyle.

“Off the start, everyone knows about the defensive side of my game,” he said before Friday’s match against the New Jersey Devils. “So I polished it up. I know when to take my chances and when not to.

“Lots of players are going through what I’ve been through. Lots of first round picks have been sent down and you have to look at it as just one of those things. A lot of top NHL talent has come through the minors, so it’s not a surprise to me.”

As for joining a sinking ship, Kadri refused to be a defeatist.

“Everyone knows the struggles that have gone on here, but everyone in this room wants to win,” he said. “There’s no reason to hang our heads.”

JIM DANDY OUTCOME

Needless to say, things have worked out nicely for would-be Leaf James van Riemsdyk.

The Flyers’ winger was in talks to be traded to the Leafs, but they snagged on a Jan. 7

concussion that caused the Jersey native to miss 15 games. Now he’s healthy, while the Flyers are headed to the playoffs next month and the Leafs to the golf course.

“When all those rumours went down I was shielded with my concussion,” van Riemsdyk told the Newark Star-Ledger. “We all know there’s not much you can control unless you have a no-movement clause in your contract. This is a great group to be part of here (in Philadelphia) and I want to continue to be part of it.”

DEVIL COMES OUT IN KOVIE

Ilya Kovalchuk is slowly working his way into the good graces of the Devils’ fan base. The big-ticket winger has 31 goals this year as the team heads into the playoffs and scored career No. 400 Tuesday night against Ottawa, a 1-0 win.

It came in his 771st career game, third-fastest among active players after Teemu Selanne (700) and Jaromir Jagr (742).

Wayne Gretzky needed just 436 games.

SECOND FIDDLE IN TUNE

Devils’ goalie Johan Hedberg has done something very difficult in the Martin Brodeur era — win 16 games.

Only three previous times in the 28 seasons has a Devils’ seldom-used understudy had that many, mostly a reflection of the workhorse Brodeur.

Ex-Leaf Scott Clemmensen won 25 games here in 2008-09 while the injured Brodeur managed 19. Chris Terreri won 20 in 1993-94, dividing that year with the rookie Brodeur, who won 27. Craig Billington won 21 as Terreri’s backup in 1992-93.


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